Bahrain Blogger Comes Out Of Hiding
MICHEL MARTIN HOST: The power of social media also became clear during the Arab Spring. It's still seen in the way news about Bahrain has spread ever since prodemocracy protests started in the island kingdom more than two years ago. Earlier this month, a court sentenced six people to a year in jail for insulting King Hamad Al Khalifa on Twitter. Activists say it's just another example of how sensitive the ruling family can be to critics.
That's something Ali Abdulemam knows all too well. He founded one of Bahrain's most popular blogs, and has been in and out of jail there several times, including once, he says, on a charge of insulting his majesty the king. When the crackdown against pro-democracy protests started, Abdulemam figured he'd be targeted again, so he went into hiding on the tiny island. Two years have passed since then, and Ali Abdulemam has now emerged in London, and he's with us from there now. Welcome. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
ALI ABDULEMAM: Thank you.
HOST: You've now been given political asylum by Britain. It's such a mundane question, but can you just describe what it feels like to be able to kind of speak to me freely, walk freely in London after having been in hiding for two years now?
ABDULEMAM: Being an exile and away from your country and your family and your friends, this is kind of hurting you. But, again, you are happy because now you can move freely. You can walk on the road. You can do many things that you were not being able to do in the last two years.
HOST: How did you cope for two years with largely staying out of sight, without very much contact with the world for the last two years? I mean, did you largely stay indoors? Did you - how did you manage that?
ABDULEMAM: I was reading and watching movies, trying to do some exercise. I challenged myself to finish 100 books in one year, but I finished 107 books. I didn't want to feel that I lost two years of my life. So that's why I was reading so heavy, just to convince the people one day that say to me that you lost two years from your life, I will tell them no. I read this much books in these two years.
HOST: What kinds of books did you read?
ABDULEMAM: I was focusing on civil conflicts. I was reading about Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda, South Africa. I was trying to understand the civil conflict in Bahrain happened, and at that turning point, what makes the situation in Bahrain so divided. That was - I always focusing on it during my hiding.
HOST: As a blogger, why do you think your activities were so closely monitored? Why do you think that the ruling family reacted so strongly to what you had to say?
ABDULEMAM: Because our work has its effect on the ground. We can convince the people of what we want. We can talk their language. With the rulers who always control the tradition and media, and no one was criticizing them, but now with the online activists and bloggers, they say whatever they want. And that's what the rulers are afraid of.
HOST: While you were in hiding, you were tried in absentia for plotting against the regime. You were sentenced to 15 years in prison. I was wondering how you felt when word reached you. At some point, you had to have learned of this, and I just wondered what went through your mind.
ABDULEMAM: I still remember that moment when I was watching the TV. I was just laughing loudly.
HOST: You were laughing?
ABDULEMAM: Yeah, laughing loudly, because I feel that the rulers, I mean, they don't want to solve the problem. They just want to manage the problem, and this is not getting anywhere. They have to sit and solve the problem. It's not about you have the power, and put those activists in the jail. This time (unintelligible). Now the people are demanding the change.
HOST: When you say solve the problem, what is the problem?
ABDULEMAM: Yeah, we need a country. You see, if you define the country with people, land, government, we don't have that. This is our problem. It's not about free form. It's not about sectarian. It's not about discrimination. It's about the whole country needs to be recreated.
HOST: Do you feel that the outside world, the international community is interested in what's going on in Bahrain right now? Do you think that - or just wonder whether you feel that the world's attention has passed you by?
ABDULEMAM: Well, the fact is that the world turned their back to us. We were being tortured and jailed. Four died in that torture, and no one condemned that. The world - all the world didn't look to us as human. They looked to us as their interests, what they will lose if they help us. Their right is to elect their government, to have a powerful parliament, to have justice, freedom of expression and the free press. We don't have all of that, and they didn't bother to support us.
HOST: I understand that for reasons of security - and you certainly don't want to compromise the safety of the people who helped you - but do you mind if I ask you about your family? Because I know you have a family.
ABDULEMAM: And they are still in Bahrain, and they are fine. Yeah.
HOST: What's the hardest part of all this?
ABDULEMAM: There are many hardest parts. Seeing my people in the city being killed without any emotion from the world, being apart from my family, seeing the situation is getting worse in my homeland. All of these are so hard.
HOST: What are you going to do now?
ABDULEMAM: I'm going to continue my work in supporting and defending the human rights and freedom of expression, also the online freedom in my region.
HOST: Ali Abdulemam is a Bahraini online activist and blogger. We caught up with him from the BBC studios in London, where he was recently granted political asylum. Ali Abdulemam, thank you so much for speaking with us.
ABDULEMAM: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.